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Archive for June, 2007

2007-06-20 Two passes in one day

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

A snippet of last night’s conversation.
Me: So the passes are 9 miles apart and there is 2000ft down and back up between them.
Lucky Joe: Then we have breakfast.

We set off from just below Pinchot Pass at 6:30 this morning (I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag), crossed the pass and were plugging on down into the canyon for quite a while. The two groups that I saw yesterday were each packing up their tents, still in the shade, as we went by.

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The walk across to Mather Pass wasn’t all that steep but I was dragging along for most of it. At the pass we found some familiar faces. Fester, Bounty Hunter, Filthy Figaro, Germinator and Neptune who were all suprised that we had been behind them on the trail. We exchanged trail gossip including news that Sandles had got a ’staph’ infection in her blood. Sounds really bad. By noon we were on our way down and having fun glissading on one of the very few snow patches left on the trail. I managed to pull off a very cool grind down a large rock, no snowboard or anything.

Further on down we stopped to swim in Lower Palisade Lake before stomping down the knee-busting Golden Staircase and the valley below to complete the day’s 4000ft elevation loss. We’ve all made a tiny start up the next canyon on the way to Muir Pass, possibly the only one with notable snow remaining. I’m next to the ranger station here, camping near Chet, a guy claiming to be only the third person ever to do the Sierra High Route solo (though I met someone coming on at Independence also doing it this year). It’s 240 miles of which 30 are on trails. Looks like quite a rough hike. Time to hide in my bag and wait for daylight.

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Neptune, Germinator, Bounty Hunter (has hat), Filthy Figaro (can’t see face), Lucky Joe, Fester, just down from Bishop Pass

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Glen Pass to Mather Pass

Google Maps

2007-06-19 Forward Progress!

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

After a week of doing other, equally enjoyable, things I have finally gotten back to the Pacific Crest Trail and you can move my little marker 16.7 miles closer to Canada.

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Glen Pass

After stopping briefly to chat with OJ and April before they hiked over to Independence, Lucky Joe and I crossed Glen Pass without any trouble. We’d heard previously that it and Muir had the most snow and if that is ‘the most’ then this year’s Sierra is a cake walk. It was a long descent to Wood Creek, past the lovely Rae Lakes, and the haul up the other side was pretty tough. I met 6 other north bound PCTers today, but on first impressions they didn’t seem nearly as much fun as the ones I already know. We’re camped at 11,332ft, according to Lucky Joe’s watch, and can see Pinchot Pass from here.

Sparkling Rae Lakes

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Glen Pass to Mather Pass

Google Maps

2007-06-19 Return to Onion Valley

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Walks With Son writes:
I returned SunWalker and Lucky Joe to the trail at Onion Valley on Monday afternoon. They took their packs and marched off towards Kearsarge Pass, weighed down by food for the days ahead, but lightened by the knowledge that they were getting back on the PCT at last.

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Leaving the Onion Valley trailhead for Kearsarge Pass

This left me with several days to spare before my flight back to New Zealand on Thursday. My flight dates allowed for the possibility of hiking with SunWalker either before my conference or after. As it worked out I had a perfect hike from Kennedy Meadows to Trail Pass and my wish to enjoy a section of the PCT in the Sierras had already been fulfilled. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the trailhead so I hung around for the afternoon. I helped a group of hikers who were heading in to follow the PCT south to Whitney but got caught out when their car couldn’t manage the road up from Independence. Thru-hikers Thunder, Dalton and Gabby went past me and up to camp on the trail to the pass. Eventually it got dark so I slept in the back of the SUV. In the morning I was getting ready to leave when I decided on impulse to hike a little way up the trail for a better view of the valley. My feet felt better so I decided to go as far as the first lake. Without a pack, or even food and water, the going was easy and I just kept going. I met Snow Berry and Easy Rider coming down for resupply at Independence

Two and a half hours later I reached Kearsarge Pass. The hikers I has assisted the previous afternoon were there after spending the night beside one of the five lakes on the way up.

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Section hikers at Kearsarge Pass

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Kearsarge Pass, Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake. PCT passes Bullfrog Lake and crosses the ridge towards Glen Pass out of sight to the right of this view

Also at the top were PCT people Iceman, Erik the Black, Gazelle, Ricola and OJ. On the way down I met Mauka (sp?) and Abby, the Pooler Bears and Disco Dan going back to the PCT. Further down I met Breeze, Sage, Max and Hard Rock heading up. Near the bottom of the trail I was overtaken by Farmer Pirate and Lupin Lady

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Gazelle, Breeze, Sage, Max, Ricola and OJ

(I hope I have the order right)

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Gazelle and Erik the Black at Gilbert Lake

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Onion Valley

Back at the trailhead I gave some of the PCT hikers I’d met on my little walk a ride down to Independence and then felt sorry for Jugs and Big Cat standing by the road in the sun trying to get back up the hill so I made one more trip from Independence to Onion Valley. Lieutenant Dan rounded out my day of hiker name dropping before I got back in my car and headed up highway 395 to look around the Truckee area which SunWalker should be reaching in about three weeks.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Kearsarge Pass

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2007-06-18 Kearsarge Lakes (again)

Monday, June 18th, 2007

The sun was on my sleeping bag before I got up. That’s a good sign to me. Still I was up and moving at 7am, Lucky Joe found us at the store an hour later as he said good-bye to his girlfriend, then Dad drove us back to the trail above Independence. We stopped in Mammoth to resupply and found Ultra Brite, last seen shooting out of Deep Creek, and helped move her around town. Some burgers in Bishop and that was it, we went to the trail.

I fare-welled Dad from the car park. I’ve been pretty lucky to break up my long walk with such a good family visit. The last few days have been much like the times we had when we came here about 6 years ago, except without all the computers. Good times.

Getting up and over Kearsarge seemed impossible when we started, laden down with food. But after a while I realised through all the huffing and puffing I was really glad to be back on the mission. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Rolling Thunder and goBig, two guys from last year here to resupply Scout and Frodo, but I just had to get back on trail. If you two read this and ever pass through Auckland you should look me up and come tell me what the Sierras were like with snow.

We’re down at Kearsarge Lakes now, not far from last week’s bear adventure. But with a big USFS bear box protecting our food we should sleep well. Plus it’s “warm” enough to cowboy camp and I love that.

At about 10:22pm someone shone their headlamp in my face, I woke as they left the camping area and said sorry. No idea who it was or where they went but I was glad for the wake up. The stars were bright, the Milky Way was visible and just a minute or two later the brightest shooting star I have ever seen streaked across the sky to the north. I saw it break into bits and I’m sure I heard a “vrooosh”, but that may have been the wind.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Kearsarge Pass

Google Maps

2007-06-17 Mono Lake side trip

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

To recover from yesterday’s excessive miles we took it easy today. A slow morning of packing food for my next section and deciding what things can be sent home.

We drove out east to Mono Lake which has been drying up since water was diverted away to Los Angeles in 1941. The lake has no outlet so like the Dead Sea the salts get left behind when the water evaporates and now it’s about 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. It was interesting to see the strange towers that formed around the springs when they had been under water but something was missing.

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Mono Lake

We went to Lee Vining for lunch at a classic old ice-cream place called Mono Cone. I couldn’t tell if it was retro styled or just had always been that way. The 70s music playing from the radio statio was in theme but something was missing.

In the early afternoon Dad and I walked along Tuolumne River and he found a shaded spot under a tree while I tried to work on my tan by falling asleep on a rock in the sun. It was nice and relaxing but it wasn’t right. I need to get moving again. I’m not supposed to be here yet. I’m in Independence, 150 miles south. So tomorrow Dad will drive Lucky Joe and I back to the trail and we’ll get on with it. Pass after pass, meadow after meadow. The fabulous high sierra awaits and I am going to conquer it for real.

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Sending email from Tuolumne Meadows

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Camping at Tuolumne Meadows

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Rest Day at Tuolumne Meadows

Google Maps

2007-06-16 Into Yosemite Valley

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Today was my longest day yet. 30.2 miles but none of it on the PCT. This is a really long entry but I hope you read to the end because, and don’t take this lightly, someone died. I put my big bag in a bear-proof locker and was on the trail by 6am. Most of the day was on the JMT as it wound up through dense forest, past Cathedral Lakes and a number of the big imposing granite domes that are the hallmark of Yosemite. With only a small day pack I was making great time and came to the Sunrise Meadow area fairly early. I hadn’t seen anyone yet and the place was so serene. No clouds to mention, rolling granite hills with assorted pine varieties and only me there to witness it. Me and about 3 million mosquitos. I didn’t have time to stop to take pictures because the little blood suckers were on me in a flash. This also made stopping for other reasons unbearable too, so on I marched.

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At Cloud’s Rest the summit route from the north is just scrambling over rocks. I got to the top and spent a long time staring down the magestic Yosemite Valley. I’ve been there three times before, summiting Half Dome twice but I’ve never seen it from above like this. The valley looks so much steeper and more dramatic from up there removed from it all. I stayed long enough to take some photos and eat a snickers bar then I gingerly made my way down the incredibly steep steps on the southern end, kudos to the trail engineers who did that.

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Looking down on the Yosemite Valley from Cloud’s Rest

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Hi Bex

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Looking down on Half Dome

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You Made It!

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The top of Half Dome, with the slope of Quarter Dome in front

The gradiated switchbacks were very gentle so I ran a mile or two on the way down and came to the junction to Half Dome before 1pm. At this rate I thought I had enough time to bag that peak too and still make it down for a pizza this evening. So I rushed on up finding the way totally unfamiliar though I’d done it before. The closer I got to Half Dome the better I could see the cables* and the hundreds of people clinging to them. It was going to take me over an hour to get up if I too had to wait behind every wanna-be rock climber taking ten breaths for every step, so I jumped the queue. Yeah I felt bad but I wasn’t slowing anyone down.

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People waiting to climb the Half Dome cables

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Crowds ascending the cables

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The view from the top

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The west face of Half Dome

I scrambled up the first dozen meters before it became too steep then pulled myself up the outside of the cables. “excuse me”, “sorry”, “coming through”, I said as I overtook the crowds on the steps. I went far too fast and for the last dozen meters I felt like I’d just run a marathon. I knew the view already but it didn’t stop me from grinning like a mad man as I approached the edge to stare 4,000ft down to the valley floor. The grin turned to open-mouthed amazement as I saw two climbers beneath the big over hang us walkers like to pose on. That’s a crazy long way to climb, totally crazy. I’d rather BASE jump off it.

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High Flyer

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Descending the cables from Half Dome to Quarter Dome

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When I’d crept close enough to the edge for some scary photos and gotten my breath back I descended the cables in the same reckless manner as my climb. Sometimes with one hand but mostly with two, I passed people who had been waiting at the bottom when I arrived. Pausing next to one guy who looked comfortable with his location I asked if he wanted a photo coz right here was very cool. He was too nervous to get his camera so he took mine and got one of me casually leaning back one hand free. I did slip twice, but only an inch or two. I got down, did a victory wave and made a rush for the valley floor. Just before 3pm I was back at the junction unaware of what was going on at the cables. A guy slipped. No equipment failure, no pushing, just slipped, fell and died. Right from where I had been so cavalier. I must have seen him amongst the crowd and rushed by without thinking. I wonder now if he saw me. What if I inspired him? I didn’t have a sign saying “don’t try this at home ” or “I trust these shoes with my life”. Like I said I wasn’t aware of the tragedy yet. I pushed on down the trail passing things I should have recognised but didn’t until I reached Vernal Falls and The Mist Trail. Finally, 10.5 hours and almost 30 miles since that morning I came to the bridge at the bottom and just before I saw him I figured Dad would be there. We walked the last little way to the car park and came upon a ranger with a sign asking for photos of the cables. This is when I found out about the fall. It took a little while to sink in but it’s doing so now.

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The Mist Trail below Vernal Falls

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Walks with Son and SunWalker

*two long cables about 2cm thick. In summer metal posts are inserted into drilled holes in the rock and wooden steps go between them.

Some links for details of the tragic accident:

http://www.bayareadragon.com/bbs/static/zt12553_en.html

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/19/BAGHNQHLEV1.DTL

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sgreen/detail?blogid=40&entry_id=17696

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite
Location: Tuolumne Meadows – again

Google Maps

2007-06-15 The lovely Lyell

Friday, June 15th, 2007

After a steep drop off from our campsite Lucky Joe and I found ourselves at the southern end of Lyell Canyon, its lush grassy meadow spread out before us and the river we crossed last night as a torrent at the top of steep rapids now silently meandering down the middle. The sun was already vapourising the dew as we stopped to look at one particularly perfect bend in the river. It was so clear and pure it just had to be swum in. Oh boy was that ever cold but what a rush.

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Lyell Canyon

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The valley walk was maybe 7 miles long and we stopped a number of times to admire the meadow and the snow speckled granite mountains that fed the river. Eventually we reached the end and spent most of the day outside the Tuolumne general store. A nice father and son (who was hiking shoeless and with a kid sized external frame pack) bought us burgers, which I later supplemented with a pint of icecream, a big bag of crisps and another burger. As he left he slipped us something labeled “The Room” and I took it graciously even though I knew what was inside. The back cover said “the answer to your problems”. I wasn’t aware I had a problem. I’m out here in the most amazing scenery, having the time of my life. I’m doing this because I can, because I want to and because hundreds if not thousands of people have helped create this trail to make it all possible. Their work has been particularly visible in the last few days. Extensive rock work has gone on to create steps and paths since Red’s Meadow. It doesn’t rival the forces of nature but it does make my passage a lot easier.

Tonight I sleep in Tuolumne Campground. I’ve driven the road outside a few times but never thought I’d be camping between the trees with 850 miles under my feet.

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Tow Away Zone

Lucky Joe’s girl has turned up so he’ll be occupied for the weekend. Like all my hiking friendships we have to go our own ways eventually, but luckily it’s all on the same 2ft wide line leading to one place. With a bit of luck I’ll run into all of them again somewhere, even if I have to invite each and every one to NZ.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at John Muir Trail

Google Maps

2007-06-14 Swimming at 10,000ft

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Because I’ll come back through this section again later I felt able to veer from the PCT and try the 14 miles of the JMT where they differ. It was a very scenic route with a lot of undulation. Lucky Joe and I took loads of photos of the lakes and mountains while trying to not stay still for too long as the mosquitos are out in force and any slowing of pace makes you a target.

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Garnet Lake was stunning. I really felt like a swim but held off until we had lunch and rejoined the PCT at Thousand Island Lake. It was chilly but it felt so good. The water up here is so clean and pure I swear you could just drink straight from the streams. In some cases I have. Big gulps of cold water really make me feel better after a tough uphill stretch. Today we topped Donahue Pass at 11,000ft and spent a little bit of time hopping over the Lyell Fork (of Tuolumne River) swollen by the day’s snow melt. We had to wade one crossing but otherwise we stayed dry.

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Dallying Llamas

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Lucky Joe and SunWalker

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Thousand Island Lake

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One step at a time

Now we’re cowboy camping well off trail in bear central. Fingers crossed for an uneventful night, free from mosquitos and bears.

Oh yeah, 22.6 miles but they don’t count as I’ll be doing them again in sequence later.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at John Muir Trail

Google Maps

2007-06-13 Four hitches and a goodbye

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

I’ve been looking at the map of the western side of Bishop Pass for a day or two now and it doesn’t look easy so I decided not to do it. That left me with the problem of how to get off the trail to meet Dad in a few days. I decided to hitch up to Mammoth Lakes and do the stretch from Red’s Meadow to Tuolumne Meadow because it’s pretty scenic and better than just sitting in a town for four days.

Lucky Joe was doing the same thing to meet his girl so we teamed up. The hitch out of Independence was hard. We were there in the sun for an hour until Abbie and her dad pulled into the gas station. They had just dropped Hitch and Cabana Boy at Kennedy Meadows and spotted us hiker trash on the road side. They got us to Big Pine where a PCTA member got us to Bishop and then Walt got us to Mammoth, then James and his girlfriend got us to the entry to Red’s Meadow and then a lady in a truck got us down the hill. Five hitches in the end but eventually we were back on a trail.

The goodbye came from Tiki who hitched south a few miles to see the remains of the internment camp at Manzanar where his parents, grandparents and hundreds (thousands?) of other Japanese-Americans were held during WWII. I didn’t feel I could go along as a tourist while he was there for personal history. I’ll hopefully catch him near Lake Tahoe.

Devil’s Postpile was already in shadow when we marched by and we got in a few miles before the light really faded and we camped in the woods. During those last few miles we got to talking a lot more than I have on the rest of the trip, or at least a lot deeper. I learned some things about buddhism and letting go of the things my mind keeps wandering onto. This is good, another thing I came out here for was to chill out. Living with just what’s on my back, ruled only by daylight and water. If only life could always be this simple.

Also bad news from Davy (a.k.a. Old Skool). On the approach to Kennedy Meadows his ankle ‘popped’, audibly, and now he can hardly walk. He’s pulled out of a thru-hike this year but may rejoin the trail later for some sections.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at John Muir Trail
0 PCT miles

Google Maps

2007-06-12 Independence

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Kearsarge Pass has the reputation for being the most scenic part of the high sierra. It really was beautiful with lakes, trees and marmots doing their thing but I passed it all by to get to the trailhead at Onion Valley and hitch to town. I got a ride with a snake spotter. He’s updating his book “Field Studies of Reptiles and Amphibians” and needs to get a photo of a striped californian whiptail. No luck today but it got me to town where Lucky Joe and Tiki had already checked in. We did the usual town things but had to grill our own burgers because the only eatery here is Subway and they simply don’t have enough calories.

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Bullfrog Lake (or one of the Kearsarge Lakes)

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Lake on the eastern side of Kearsarge Pass

I took a look around the impressive building in the middle of it all. “Inyo Covnty Covrt Hovse”, presumably where all the covrting happens. One door was frosted glass and labelled with those bold gold letters you see on old detective movies. I went through it to investigate “Ficticious Business Names”. The lady inside appears to think it is normal to register a genuine business but call it ficticious and thought I was an oddball for questioning this.

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Inyo Covnty Court House

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Crabtree Meadows to Independence

Google Maps